Walmart Stores Inc. pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in San Francisco Tuesday to dumping hazardous waste all around the state and agreed to pay a fine of $81.6 million.
The crime, which involves multiple violations of the Clean Water Act and an environmental pesticide law, is a misdemeanor. Six misdemeanors, to be precise.
The world’s biggest retailer admitted to disposing of fertilizer, pesticides and other hazardous waste products in California by dumping the products, which had been pulled from shelves for defective packaging, into trash bins and public sewers. The illegal dumping occurred between 2003 and 2005 and was the subject of litigation for nearly a decade.
Walmart claimed the problem was that workers hadn’t been trained properly to dispose of the material and that a new training program introduced in 2006 fixed it. The company said that most of the products in question were common household items like deodorants, bleach, hairspray and nail polish.
“This is stuff that on your retail level, would be considered hazardous waste, but in your household, would not be,” Walmart spokesman Brooke Buchanan told CNN Money. In other words, they are products that you might safely smear under your arms or spray on your head but that you might not want to drink.
The company settled a similar lawsuit in Missouri last year, and another in California in 2010 that cost it $27.6 million. The 2010 case included an incident in Solano County where a boy was found playing in a pile of ammonia sulfate fertilizer near a Walmart gardening area.
The Missouri case was slightly different, according to CNN. Walmart pleaded guilty to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by sending damaged household products to a local recycling center where they were processed and resold to customers. The company sent more than 2 million pounds of unlabeled pesticides, which had been mixed together, and other products to the center over a two-year period.
Walmart’s statement on the California settlement said the fine would have no effect on second-quarter financial earnings.